cover image John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars

John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars

Eve Golden. Univ. of Kentucky, $39.95 (358p) ISBN 978-0-8131-4162-6

This thoroughly researched biography of dashing actor Gilbert explores his vast filmography that spans two decades, his romantic partners, and the untimely ends to both his career and his life. Golden (Anna Held) summarizes Gilbert's films and contextualizes their critical reception, from his early work as an extra in films like Civilization to his "greatest role" in the war movie The Big Parade, and the controversial talkies Redemption and His Glorious Nights. In addition to his four wives, Gilbert had high profile affairs with many famous actresses including Greta Garbo, whom he met on the set of Flesh and the Devil and Marlene Dietrich just before his death. Golden questions the narrative that audiences did not react well to Gilbert's voice in the talkies and offers many alternative possibilities for his downfall. Was it public problems with alcoholism or the 1928 hatchet job by Vanity Fair? Gilbert and MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer feuded the length of his career with several rumors of fistfights. Was he sabotaged by the sound mixers? Fans of silent era Hollywood will delight in puzzling out this mystery as well as the abundance of gossip and trivia. 62 b/w photos. (Apr.)